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The New 2021 Strength of Schedule: Running Backs (Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Jun 4, 2021

The 49ers running backs have a great schedule in 2021

How many times have you heard someone on a podcast or in an article dismiss strength of schedule? The same ones who say that often publish something on strength of schedule, because there are so many people who are looking to get every edge possible. But it becomes a problem when everyone looks at strength of schedule the same way.

It’s legitimately impossible to justify why certain teams have gotten better and apply any measurement as to how it will improve their team’s defense the following year. Sure, they may have drafted a defensive player, but maybe they have him play out of position, maybe he doesn’t quite fit the scheme, or maybe he’s just a bust and doesn’t get on the field. Because of that, we must throw the idea that we can adjust teams out the window.

Instead, let’s make the traditional strength of schedule better. Remember when Kareem Hunt finished as the No. 10 running back in 2020? Does that mean he should’ve been drafted as the 10th running back off the board? Absolutely not, anyone who played fantasy football can tell you that. That method is exactly what most do for strength of schedule. How many total points did a team allow, rank them among others, apply those ranks to next year’s schedule, and voila, traditional strength of schedule.

Instead of accepting this as a method, I did exactly what I do for fantasy players with “Boom, Bust, and Everything in Between,” (read the process on that here) where I went through every team and added up how many top-12 performances they allowed (based on the BBEIB method), how many top-24, etc. as to how it relates to each position. What this does is remove an outlier performance where a team may have allowed a massive game to a superstar that influenced the overall numbers more than they should’ve. Who knows, maybe they were missing a superstar like Joey Bosa on defense that week. Whatever the case, this method allows us to see each team’s consistency as it relates to fantasy football and should better project the strength of schedule for 2021. Here’s my list of running backs with their score in my strength of schedule earned.

Read about the quarterbacks here
Read about the wide receivers here

Running Backs with a Great Schedule

Raheem Mostert/Trey Sermon (SF) SOS Score: 22
We don’t know which of them will be the starter for this team, but we do know that whoever is the starter is likely going to crush with the schedule they have. They don’t have what’s considered to be a tough matchup until Week 7 when they host the Colts. In fact, that’s the tough part of the schedule where they’ll play the Colts, Bears and Rams over a four-week stretch. But if you’re looking to the playoffs, it doesn’t get better than Bengals, Falcons, Titans, and Texans to close out the year.

Najee Harris (PIT) SOS Score: 16
If you’ve listened to the podcast, you know I’m high on Harris this year. His schedule does nothing to deter me from that, as he has the second-best one in the league. He doesn’t have any matchups that were deemed brutal and has just three matchups that are below average. He should get off to a solid start against the Bills, Raiders, Bengals, and Packers.

Melvin Gordon/Javonte Williams (DEN) SOS Score: 14
There are question marks surrounding this backfield and who will get the most touches, and you might be more intrigued to find out when you hear their schedule is rather light. There are tough matchups with the Steelers, Browns, and Washington in Weeks 5-8, but outside of those games, it’s smooth sailing. The playoff schedule doesn’t get much better than theirs, as they’ll play the Lions, Bengals, and Raiders in Weeks 14-16.

Notable: Jonathan Taylor (IND) SOS Score: 12

Running Backs with a Bad Schedule

Ronald Jones/Leonard Fournette (TB) SOS Score: -14
This is a situation that’s a lot like the Broncos and 49ers backfields, but the difference is that this can be your tiebreaker to avoid the situation unless you get a discount. The Bucs will be playing in eight “below average” matchups, with all of them coming between Weeks 3-15. If you draft one of them, taking advantage of a sell-high window after matchups with the Cowboys and Falcons make sense, because it’s then the Rams, Patriots, Dolphins, Eagles, Bears, Saints, and Football Team. After those first two weeks, the only fluffy matchup they have for the remainder of the season is Week 13 against the Falcons (again).

Aaron Jones/A.J. Dillon (GB) SOS Score: -14
While going through the Packers schedule, there were just two games that were deemed plus matchups, and both came in the team’s first five games. But it’s not like it’s all sunshine to start the season, as they have games against the Saints, 49ers, and Steelers over the first four weeks. It’s also not a great thing that they’ll play in Baltimore the first week of the fantasy playoffs.

Devin Singletary/Zack Moss (BUF) SOS Score: -14
You should already know that the Bills running backs are not great investments, but if you needed another nudge to not draft them, use this. The Bills schedule to start the season is brutal, as they’ll play the Steelers, Dolphins, and then the Football Team. Those are three matchups you really aren’t actively trying to start a timeshare running back. All in all, the Bills are tied for a league-high nine below-average matchups. They do have four games that are deemed plus matchups, but that doesn’t offset the negatives.

Notable: Chris Carson (SEA) SOS Score: -10

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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